Prince William goes on 'last flight' before giving up job as helicopter pilot

Prince William is hanging up his flight suit.  

The Duke of Cambridge's last shift in his "civilian" job — as a helicopter pilot for an air ambulance service — was Thursday. He arrived at an airport near Cambridge for a night shift at 4:30 p.m. local time, attended the usual briefings and then posed with his team at the helicopter he has flown for the past two years on emergency rescue missions in north-central England near his country home. 

The duke, 35 and second-in-line to the British throne, is giving up his job with the East Anglian Air Ambulance service to become a full-time member of the royal "Firm." He and his wife, Duchess Kate of Cambridge, with their children Prince George, 4, and Princess Charlotte, 2, are moving back to London to their sprawling apartment in Kensington Palace.

The move coincides with the Prince George's first day of school at Thomas' Battersea, a private day school located across the Thames from Kensington Palace, in early September.

The family has been living mostly at Amner Hall in Norfolk on the royal family's Sandringham estate, near the ambulance service's base at the Cambridge airport.

Will, who also served as a military rescue helicopter pilot for seven years, issued a heartfelt statement thanking his colleagues and the community for accepting and treating him as a "fellow professional — a pilot with a job to do."

"As part of the team, I have been invited into people's homes to share moments of extreme emotion, from relief that we have given someone a fighting chance, to profound grief," his statement said. "These experiences have instilled in me a profound respect for the men and women who serve in our emergency services, which I hope to continue to champion even as I leave the profession." 

He described some of his experiences and the people he met under "the most desperate of circumstances," after landing his helicopter "in gardens, school playing fields, beaches, roadsides, anywhere it is safe to do so."

"As a team, we travel to some very daunting incidents and we have been through some incredibly tough times together, witnessing some appalling tragedies," he said. "One of the first call-outs I made was to a young man who had committed suicide; it was an incredibly tough day and had a profound effect on all of us, not least in my determination now to draw attention to this issue."

One of Will's major royal campaigns, along with brother Prince Harry and Duchess Kate, is to raise awareness of the need to treat mental health issues with the same attention as any other medical issue.

Will praised the ambulance service for recognizing the stress this kind of work can inflict on first responders, and encouraging them to talk about the things they've seen and to "share the trauma" within the team. 

In recent weeks, as the 20th anniversary of the death of his late mother, Princess Diana, in a Paris car crash approaches, both Will and Harry have been speaking more openly about dealing with grief and trauma and the effect on mental health.

"I now know, though, that there are things that cannot be unseen and experiences that our first responders deal with on a daily basis that they will carry with them for life," he said in his statement. "As I hang up my flight suit, I am proud to have served with such an incredible team of people, who save lives across the region every day."

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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